Gove ‘delighted’ on free schools proposals

by Peter Wozniak

The education secretary has expressed optimism over the progress of his ‘free school’ reforms, despite only a small number of proposals likely to come to come to fruition by September 2011.

Just 16 proposals have progressed to the next stage of development with a view to starting up at the beginning of the next academic year.

Mr Gove said: “We need to reform our education system if we are to accelerate improvement to keep pace with the highest performing systems of the world and ensure that every pupil growing up in this country gets a better chance of achieving their potential.

“‘Free schools’ form an integral part of the government’s education policy to improve choice for parents and raise standards for all young people.

“I am delighted that so many promising proposals have come forward at such an early stage.”
The education secretary has staked his reputation on a series of radical reforms to schooling, aiming to greatly expand the academies programme begun by Labour and allowing private groups to set up ‘free schools’ with state funding.

However, enthusiasm for the plans has been less than overwhelming, with only 32 schools committed to take up academy status, and now just 16 free schools proposals making significant progress.

Mr Gove has attempted to characterise the small numbers as “pathfinders” for a supposedly much greater level of interest.

He argued: “The proposals announced today are just the start of our free schools programme. My department has received a number of promising proposals for 2012 and 2013 and we will be making further announcements about taking these forward in due course.”

The free schools initiative has been criticised as likely to be concentrated in areas of already high academic achievement, unlikely to achieve a wholesale transformation of education.

The announcement of the small expansion in the number of academies met with derision from teachers’ unions last week.